Each of the DVD box sets of Edgar Wallace Mysteries contains a bonus film, unconnected to the film series apart from being Anglo-Amalgamated Productions B movies from around the same time. The second volume has The White Trap from 1959, which I found more entertaining than most of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries in the set.
It’s a very unusual story, because the main character is Paul Langley, a prisoner who keeps escaping. He’s definitely the hero of the piece, and has almost certainly been wrongly imprisoned. He is also a war hero, and his escapes from German prisoner of war camps have stood him in good stead when it comes to outwitting his prison warders and the police.
We start the film with a failed attempt at an escape, which shows the lengths to which the police have to go to recapture Langley. They get their man in the end, but they get a soaking into the bargain. Back in the prison, the governor seems to have a grudging respect for Langley, while the padre is almost despairing of helping him. Langley’s motivations are interesting. The wheels are in motion to get him freed and everyone sounds reasonably positive about that, so if Langley sits tight and waits his appeal will probably come through and he will be free, but outwitting his captors is a game to him, and one he plays well.
“There are a lot of people in this world that need things like drugs and alcohol, but with me it’s excitement.”
His next attempt, though, is motivated by more than just the excitement of the escape. His wife is pregnant and it’s not going well. Langley is desperate to visit her in hospital. It speaks of a cruel system where a man who has been imprisoned for a non-violent crime on a short sentence is not allowed to see his wife in hospital, who is seriously unwell, but presumably his antics have made him too much of a security risk to allow that. I don’t know how things worked back then for that kind of thing, but it does seem cruel to deny Langley’s wife the company of her husband in what might be her final hours.
All of this places the viewers firmly on the side of Langley, and it’s an absolute joy to see him make his escape, especially as he is being transferred to Dartmoor and the warder he outwits is a nasty piece of work. The first thing he does is try to humiliate Langley by throwing his jacket on the floor. Langley’s escape is very exciting, and once he’s out and about you really don’t fancy the chances of the police for getting him back. Adding to our impression of Langley as an all-round good guy, despite his circumstances, he has friends who are willing to put themselves on the line for him. His plummy voiced best buddy turns up to help him, and there is a scene where he provides a distraction by pretending he has twisted his ankle. It’s such an entertaining and funny sequence that I had to skip back and watch it twice.
Most of the final half of the film takes place in the hospital, with a fascinating game of cat and mouse. The police are divided in their opinions about Langley, with the inspector certain that he will visit the hospital but his sergeant thinks he won’t take the risk. I think the writer here is making the point that experience counts for a lot, as the sergeant tries to dismiss the inspector’s ideas as old-fashioned, but the inspector understands basic human nature and knows that never changes. There is a very interesting dynamic between those two, because the sergeant is clearly exasperated with his superior’s methods, while the inspector perhaps resents the sergeant’s swift advancement through the ranks. When he’s chatting to some journalists, the sergeant seems to have a chip on his shoulder about class being a barrier to achieving the top jobs in the police, but if anything he appears to have been promoted too quickly, because he doesn’t have half the sense of the inspector. The sergeant also comes across as quite cold-hearted, as he says he wouldn’t risk going to the hospital in Langley’s position, whereas the inspector immediately says that he would. So the sergeant is the closest thing to a villain here, although he’s really just a man doing his job.
The scenes in the hospital become increasingly hard to watch, with Langley’s wife losing her fight for life while Langley’s attempts to see her are frustrated until it’s almost too late. For such a fun film, for most of its running time, I found the ending oddly downbeat and thoroughly miserable. There are hints of a better life to come for Langley, with mention once again that he’s better off achieving his freedom by appealing his case rather than living his life on the run, and fatherhood awaits him when he gets out… or does it? I’ve no idea how that situation would have been handled at the time. Perhaps his son would have been adopted out before Langley got the chance to be a father. Ultimately the film leaves us with too many unanswered questions and a general feeling of depression. The inspector sums it up very well:
“I thought when I brought Langley in there’d be no more problems. I’d feel fine.”
“How do you feel sir?”
“Lousy. Just lousy.”
Despite the downbeat ending, I thought this was a great film, and Langley makes for a very watchable hero, fighting for the chance to see his wife. His escape from prison and life on the run are enormously entertaining. He deserved a better fate but if there’s one thing this film has to show us, it’s that life isn’t always fair. RP